Tobacco harvesting, curing begins …farmers optimistic of a successful marketing season

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THE harvesting and curing of tobacco is already underway as farmers intensify preparations for the 2014 marketing season which they are optimistic will be a success.
Traditionally, the marketing of tobacco starts in February.
Last year floors were opened on February 14 and ran for 99 days under which 159 million kilogrammes (kg) of the golden leaf went under the hammer.
The tobacco cycle starts in June when farmers prepare their seedbeds, in September planting begins mainly for farmers who irrigate their crop and runs to selling of the crop in February.
Tobacco grower, Patrick Kanengoni whose farm Dendere is situated in Centenary said he has already begun harvesting and curing his crop.
Kanengoni has 22 hectares under tobacco.
“We started harvesting on December 27 and we have already finished curing our first reap which we will soon be grading and bailing,” said Kanengoni.
“We are now on our third reap.”
Kanengoni said once the crop has been harvested it is taken to the barns for curing.
“When we harvest tobacco we do not cut down the whole plant at the same time as the plant ripens in different stages at an average of two leaves at a time,” he said.
“We cut two leaves per plant till the whole plant is finished and this is done in stages.
“After harvesting we put the leaves in barns where we use firewood to cure them and the process takes up to seven days.”
Kanengoni said after curing, the crop is taken into storage rooms where it is put in slate packs before it is graded.
“By putting the crop in slate packs we avoid a situation where a few leaves that rot may affect the whole reap,” he said.
“But in slate packs only the pack containing the rotten leaves will be affected.”
From the slate packs, Kanengoni said the crop is then graded depending on the quality and then bailed awaiting delivery to the auction floors.
Tobacco growers have raised concerns over the prohibitive prices of coal which is an alternative to firewood when curing tobacco.
Kanengoni said most farmers rely on firewood to cure the golden leaf.
“Every year, farmers have complained about the cost of coal which is being sold at US$5 000 for 30 tonnes,” he said.
“With a crop from 22 hectares I would require 180 tonnes to cure the whole crop.
“Firewood has proved to be the cheaper source of energy as we purchase a cord of gum poles for US$15.
“For my crop I would use US$12 000 to purchase firewood whereas if I were to use coal I would require US$30 000.”
Kanengoni said most small-scale farmers used firewood and if the trees were not replaced it would lead to deforestation.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has been advocating that tobacco farmers plant woodlots consumerate to their hectarage.
Kanengoni said despite the challenges being faced when curing tobacco, he was optimistic the marketing season would be a success.
“As I prepare for the marketing season, I hope this year the prices will be favourable,” he said.
“This year I planted T66 a tobacco seed variety that produces quality tobacco which normally fetches a good price on the market.”
Last year, three auction floors namely Boka Tobacco Floors (BTF), Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors (PTF) were licensed by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board to conduct auction sales
According to TIMB the average prices that prevailed at the floors were US$2, 96 per kg at BTF, US$2, 91 per kg at TSF and at PTF it was US$2, 67.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa said as farmers were gearing up for the marketing season, it was hoped they were putting in place measures to ensure the deliver a quality crop at the floors.
“It is during the curing stage when the quality of the crop is normally distorted hence the need to do the process well,” Chabikwa said.
The tobacco production sub-sector, a former preserve of white farmers, has grown over the years with production levels rising from an all-time low of 48,8 million kgs in 2008 to 60 million kgs in 2009.
In 2010, the country produced 123 million and 132,5 million kg in 2011and last year 144,5 million kg valued at $527,6 million.
At least 144 million kg were sold in 2012 and last year 159kg were sold.
The adoption of the multiple currencies has also resulted in more farmers turning to tobacco production.
The number of tobacco growers has increased dramatically over the last decade from a register of 8 500 to over 80 000 growers.
Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s major agricultural exports, accounting for 10,7 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
Formerly dominated by white farmers, the new black tobacco farmers have proved to be a force to reckon with, proving that black farmers are just as good.

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